”I’m just ner­vous.” Sean said. ”We don’t know her birth moth­er. Tomorrow she could … blow up the cel­lar.”

Leao laughed qui­et­ly into his pil­low. ”Relax. It’s not going to be that bad. It’ll take two or three hours, every­one will keep their dis­tance. She under­stands the drill.”

Sean sighed. ”How long did your inher­i­tance take?”

”Twenty min­utes. Maybe less. I went swim­ming in the lake. I zapped a few fish, but noth­ing crazy.”

”Did it hurt?”

”No, of course not.” Leao propped up on one elbow. ”Did yours?”

”No.” Sean wor­ried his hands and looked at their bed­room door. ”But my sis­ter screamed for two days when she inher­it­ed. She told me lat­er … she said if the pain had­n’t kept her blind and deaf she would have killed her­self to make it stop.”

Leao sat up, rest­ed his arms on his knees. ”You nev­er told me.”

Sean offered him a side­ways smile. ”It’s not exact­ly a fond mem­o­ry.”

”Your mom?”

Sean shook his head. ”She’s nev­er talked about it.”

”Well, the fact is, we don’t know her moth­er–”

The bed­room door cracked open. A small hand wrapped around the edge. ”Daddy? Papa?” Freha’s soft voice filled the space between them.

Sean slid out of bed and opened the door. His daugh­ter held her night shirt up to chew on the hem. ”There’s some­thing in my room.”

Sean pet her head and took her hand. ”Come on. Let’s chase it out so you can get some sleep.” Freha’s hand was small and cold. Sean frowned. She occa­sion­al­ly saw mon­sters in the clos­et or under the bed, what young child did­n’t? But she’d nev­er been this cold, before.

Sean pushed her door open and tried to remem­ber if they had anoth­er blan­ket in the hall clos­et.

Freha whined and hid her face against his thigh. Sean willed light into the room. ”Look, Freha. There’s noth­ing–” Sean stiff­ened there in the hall.

Freha looked into her room and relaxed against him. Of course, she could­n’t see it yet. Freha stepped away from her father and Sean tight­ened his grip on her hand. ”Actually, Freha…” He knelt at her lev­el and tore his eye from the dark omen above her bed. ”Would you like to sleep with Papa and I tonight?”

Her eyes lit up. They had­n’t allowed such an indul­gence in months. She scram­bled down the hall before Sean could change his mind. He was­n’t going to.

Sean willed the light out and qui­et­ly closed Freha’s bed­room door.

When Sean climbed back into his own bed, Freha had already snug­gled in under the cov­ers and was near­ly asleep. Leao gave him a soft side-eye. ”Did she give you pup­py eyes?”

”There’s a dou­gun over her bed.”

Leao hissed, ”What? Here?”

Sean put a hand on his hus­band’s shoul­der. ”Don’t. It was just watch­ing. I did­n’t want her alone with it, is all.”

Leao looked down at his daugh­ter and back up at Sean. ”How pow­er­ful is she?”

Sean slid down into the cov­ers, ”At least as pow­er­ful as my sis­ter. They seemed drawn to her.”

Leao groaned into his pil­low. ”What are we sup­posed to do, then?”

”Nothing right now. Sleep–”

”Yeah right.”

”And we’ll deal with it in the morn­ing.” Sean reached over Freha to grip Leao’s shoul­der. ”We’ll deal with it.”

”Can your sis­ter come over?”

”I’ll talk to her in the morn­ing.”

Leao nod­ded. Then nod­ded again like he was try­ing to con­vince him­self of Sean’s words. They lay in bed, each of them pre­tend­ing to sleep.

Just before dawn, the dou­gun drift­ed from Freha’s room into theirs.

It was as tall as a man at least, maybe larg­er. The dark, drift­ing cloak, tat­tered at the edges and fad­ing like smoke made the size of it dif­fi­cult to define. It looked down at them from where it piled and spilled over the ceil­ing, an open and unyeild­ing orange stare.

Leao’s hand qui­et­ly slid into Sean’s, trem­bling. Sean did­n’t feel much more con­fi­dent, despite his assur­ance they should­n’t wor­ry about it. He’d been con­cerned about Freha’s inheri­tence for all the usu­al rea­sons: explo­sions, elec­tric­i­ty, the like­li­hood she would break some­thing dur­ing the few chaot­ic hours she was com­ing into her pow­er. Now a dou­gun was fol­low­ing her. It changed every­thing.

The dou­gun was an ill omen at best. They gath­ered at places of mas­sacre and pain. They could pre­dict death. They often reaped lives them­selves, shred­ding the unfor­tu­nate vic­tim to rib­bons, then dis­man­tle­ment the soul itself. If one believed in souls. After what Sean had seen in life, he knew souls were real. What else could a dou­gun be but a cor­rupt­ed soul feed­ing on the mis­ery of the liv­ing?

”Sean, we need to leave,” Leao whis­pered.

He squeezed his hus­b­nd’s hand. ”It’ll just fol­low.”

”That’s not reas­sur­ing.”

Sean smiled despite the loom­ing por­tent over the bed. He had­n’t seen his sis­ter’s inher­i­tance, she was near­ly sev­en years old­er than him, but accord­ing to fam­i­ly, two dou­gun had fol­lowed her for a week before she came into her pow­er, and when­ev­er they trav­eled, she seemed to attract their atten­tion.

”We should go to your sis­ter’s place. She’ll know what to do.”

Sean knew Leao want­ed to get away from the dou­gun more than any­thing else, but it still was­n’t a bad idea. Lenneia spe­cial­ized in spir­its. She would have all the sup­plies for cir­cles and ward­ing at her house.

Leao man­aged to lay still only for anoth­er minute, then he slid from the bed with­out wak­ing Freha. ”I’m going to pack our bags. Tell me if it moves.”

Of course, the dou­gun was­n’t here for them, so it did­n’t react to Leao in the least. Just boiled like black mist on the ceil­ing, occa­sion­al­ly cir­cling. Sean tucked Freha into his side, unable to quell the urge to pro­tect her. There was noth­ing that could stop a dou­gun on a mis­sion, but Sean felt bet­ter with his daugh­ter in his arms regard­less.

Leao’s soft move­ments about the bed­room were punc­tu­at­ed by sud­den glances at the dou­gun, as if Leao felt he was being watched, or worse. Sean under­stood the flighty urge to escape. The same tremor had set­tled under his breast­bone, cut­ting his breath short.  He should help Leao.

Sean slid from the bed. Freha cooed, but did­n’t wake. It was still ear­ly enough to be almost-dark out­side, and his daugh­ter sim­ply curled her fist up against her nose and wig­gled into a bet­ter posi­tion.

Now that he was mov­ing, Sean’s urge to run inten­si­fied. He and Leao qui­et­ly packed their backs, stuffed them full enough to be gone for a month. They com­mu­ni­cat­ed with glances that cae with years of famil­iar­i­ty. Sean took both bags down the hall while Leao scooped sleep­ing Freha from the bed and fol­lowed. Leao loaded the car while Sean packed Freha’s bag of clothes. He ducked into the spare bath­room to fetch her tooth­brush, when the tem­per­a­ture seemed to drop.

Sean dashed into the hall and flinched away from the dou­gun stream­ing like a ban­ner out of the mas­ter bed­room. Leao had closed the door, but the crea­ture’s black mist sim­ply oozed around the door between the frame and re-assem­bled on the oth­er side. Orange eyes blinked open, star­ing in the direc­tion of the front door, where the car was perched and idling in the dri­ve­way. Leao was wait­ing on him.

Sean swal­lowed. He gath­ered Freha’s bag in one hand, snatched his keys off the counter, and locked the front door behind him. The porch light was on, still glow­ing in the semi-dark. No one would know from the man­i­cured lawn and pre­cise­ly paint­ed shut­ters that a crea­ture of evil lay wait­ing inside. He shud­dered to break up the spike of ice in his spine and hopped in the car. Leao squeaked the tires in his rush to leave. Sean did­n’t blame him. No one was ready for a dou­gun any­where near them, and to find one hov­er­ing over their daugh­ter… fol­low­ing her into their room…? Sean was beyond spooked. He blew out his breath in an attempt to calm down.

”You should text Lenneia so we don’t show up unex­pect­ed.”

”Yeah.… yeah.” Sean fished his phone out of his pock­et and craft­ed a short expla­na­tion.

We think Freha’s inher­i­tance is close. Found a :dou­gun emo­ji: over her bed this morn­ing. On our way to you.  2ish hours.

Her response was too quick for her to be asleep. I’ll get the guest bed ready. Is she spark­ing?

Not yet :sweat­drop:

Good. See you soon.

Sean stared at the text string for sev­er­al min­utes, wait­ing for some­thing else. Anything else. Even though that was clear­ly the end of the con­ver­sa­tion. Sparking light was always the first sign of an inher­i­tance com­ing in–everyone sparked. Sean had only sparked for a few min­utes, but Lenneia told him she’d sparked for a day before things real­ly ramped up. But as Leao said so many times before, they did­n’t know who Freha’s moth­er was, so they did­n’t know how strong she might be, or what kind of pre­cau­tions to take. He was fright­ened. He want­ed noth­ing more than a hap­py, healthy lit­tle girl. But he could­n’t pro­tect her from dou­guns, and since she was­n’t even spark­ing yet, what else would she call to her dur­ing the inher­i­tance? Sean did­n’t want to dwell on it. Only night­mares lived there.

They still had at least a week before any­thing hap­pened. Probably. he could­n’t let his imag­i­na­tion get away from him now, it would only get worse.

A sud­den flash in the back of the car star­tled him. Leao jumped in his seat. Sean twist­ed around to see Freha, still asleep in her boost­er, spark like a light­bulb a sec­ond time.

He exchanged a wor­ried look with Leao.

”Fuck,” Leao said. He drove faster.